Fresh blood and national renewal
This week no commentary on anything is possible without a mention of the brilliant, absolutely riveting performance of Pakistan’s young cricket team, with all the fossils like Shahid Afridi, etc, mercifully taken out from its ranks.
Why and how did this team pull off this wonder? Through the passion and raw energy that only youth and fresh blood can bring to a jaded performing scene.
Spare a thought for our national politics, an arena now as thoroughly tired, jaded and discredited as our fossilized cricket team used to be. We have the same old performers who began their political careers as flag-bearers and protégés of the Zia regime 30-35 years ago. Anywhere else this would count as an eternity. Here we have journalists and pundits—those whose sense of wellbeing is dependent on the largesse of the Sharifs—assuring us that we will have to put up with these performers for another five years.
The heavens have mercy on this hapless nation. We were not so old when the army and the ISI manufactured these dummies and put some life into them, all in a bit to countercheck the PPP. So successful was this act of political engineering that these stopgap figures became masters of the political stage. . We have joined the ranks of senior citizens. We have seen our dreams evaporate and yet these performers are still at their antics, repeating the same old rhetoric, belting out the same tired lines about how they are developing the nation and giving us similar variations on the truth.
The PPP remained a political force—before Zardari gave it its death sentence—because of the corruption and incompetence of the Sharifs. The Sharifs survived as a political force because of the corruption and incompetence of the PPP. This was the real charter of democracy between them.
Either we are a nation of pumpkins and deserve nothing better or there is something malignant in our stars. Money always played a part in politics but never on the scale introduced by the Sharifovs and the leadership of the PPP. And sections of the commentariat are making themselves hoarse with the refrain that this is democracy and on no account must it be imperiled for that would lead to cataclysmic consequences.
The Sharifovs get caught up in the Panama scandal and are arraigned before the Supreme Court and now before the Joint Investigation Team looking into the murky aspects of this scandal and the cry goes up that democracy is under threat. And the prime minister having nothing else to say declares that this game of puppets should now come to an end. To whom or to what is he referring? Is it the army, is he pointing his finger at the judiciary? Does the N League leadership which is enmeshed in this scandal want us to believe that the army is pulling the strings from behind the scenes and all what we are seeing is a puppet play?
They surely take us to be a nation of chumps. And they and their media supporters think that the nation will swallow the tales being ladled out to it? This is a corruption scandal relating to money surreptitiously taken overseas—-a process also known as money-laundering—and properties acquired with this money. The Sharifs would wish this to be political martyrdom but it is nothing of the sort.
We all knew these stories which have been around for years, articles about the Sharif London flats appearing in the foreign press. But there was no way that this information could become the basis of litigation in Pakistan. So the Sharif tracks were covered and they could keep denying everything and lecturing the nation on patriotism and higher morality until out of a blue sky streaked the thunderbolt called the Panama Papers which blew the lid off the storehouse in which were kept these secrets.
This was more than hearsay, more than articles in the London press. This was incriminating information in black-and-white. Imran Khan was not one to let this opportunity go which for him it was a godsend. He seized it with both hands and turned it into a full-fledged political campaign. When the issue came before the Supreme Court a long drawn-out process started which is now in its last stages. What we have before us, what all we are hearing and seeing, does not augur well for the Sharifs.
We may not recognize it—and for sure Sharif sympathizers in the media will never come to admit it—but we are coming to the end of a chapter, a rather longish chapter, in our history. All the signs indicate this. The Sharifs have been able to provide no answers, no bank details of financial transactions, nothing about any money trail. It is just denial and obfuscation and of course the two Qatari letters—nothing else.
I was sitting next to Sohail Ahmed, urf Azizi, at an Eid TV recording and I told him that Shahbaz Sharif clad in smart suit and wearing a hat as he appeared before the JIT would make a nice episode in his regular comedy show and he laughed and said he would think about it.
Look at them—they can’t even come up with a good story. They have nothing to say except to hint darkly of conspiracies and of puppet-masters pulling the strings from behind. This is a measure of their a) desperation and b) their reduced circumstances. The power they once commanded has drained away, sucked by the swamp called Panama. They have tried maligning the Supreme Court; they have tried their level best to make the JIT controversial, a quasi-official media group in the forefront of this campaign. Read the newspapers of this group and they seem like dispatches from the Maryam Nawaz-controlled media cell located in the prime minister’s house.
But nothing has worked. The Supreme Court has been singularly unimpressed by the allegations of bias brought against the JIT. And the JIT, withstanding all the pressure being generated by the N League and its media sympathizers, remains focused on the task before it.
I can’t help mentioning another thing. Military rule, personified by the four dictators we’ve had, did great harm to Pakistan. There can be no cavil about this proposition. But isn’t this a strange aspect of our national condition that none of these tin-plated warriors ever amassed a fraction of the wealth and fortune put together by our democratic champions: the PPP leadership as represented by that colourful figure, Asif Ali Zardari, and the Sharifovs?
Ayub’s son, Gauhar Ayub, entered business and there was a nation-wide hue and cry over it. Gen Yahya was into other things, and high-level corruption was not one of them. Gen Zia did his relatives some small favours but as far as we know that was about it. Pervez Musharraf received a gift of money from a Saudi king and he has confessed to this circumstance. The godfathers we are talking about, have they ever confessed to anything? They have taken prevarication and tongue-twisting to levels never before seen in Pakistani politics.
And they do everything with such a straight face that one has to admire their chutzpah and brazenness. But the Panama scandal is changing all this. The national scene is shifting. You can almost feel this change and who knows if we are lucky new circumstances may be coming to the fore.